Kyoto, Japan – Day 5(a)

First Hikari train from Shizuoka to Kyoto with some breakfast for the 2 hours train ride. Tried out green tea cola.


The Gion Festival (祇園祭 Gion Matsuri) takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It spans the entire month of July and is crowned by a parade, the Yamaboko Junkō (山鉾巡行?) on July 17. It takes its name from Kyoto’s Gion district.



On the Naginata Hoko is the chigo, a young boy in Shinto robes and crowned by a golden phoenix, chosen from among the Kyoto merchant families as the deity’s sacred page. After weeks of special purification ceremonies, during which he lives isolated from contaminating influences such as the presence of women, he is carried atop the float as he is not permitted to touch the ground. The boy must cut a sacred rope (shimenawa) with a single stroke to begin the matsuri.



This festival originated as part of a purification ritual (goryo-e) to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. In 869, the people were suffering from plague and pestilence which was attributed to the rampaging deity Gozu Tennō (牛頭天王?). Emperor Seiwa ordered that the people pray to the god of the Yasaka Shrine, Susanoo-no-mikoto. Sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in old Japan, were prepared and erected at Shinsen-en, a garden, along with the portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka Shrine. This practice was repeated wherever an outbreak occurred. In 970, it was decreed an annual event and has since seldom been broken. Over time the increasingly powerful and influential merchant class made the festival more elaborate and, by the Edo period (1603–1868), used the parade to brandish their wealth.


Orderly crowd along the entire procession streets.

All who are pulling the floats are decked in traditional wear, including straw shoes in the hot weather.

It was very high temperatures by 10am and the emergency team were really busy as many people were fainting from the heat.


The floats in the Yoiyama Parade are divided into two groups, Hoko and Yama, and are collectively called Yamaboko (or Yamahoko). There are 9 of the larger Hoko (long pole or halberd) which represent the 66 spears used in the original purification ritual, and 23 of the smaller Yama which carry life-size figures of famous and important people. All the floats are decorated with beautiful tapestries both from Nishijin (the finest in all of Japan) and imported from all over the world. In addition to the art, there are many traditional musicians and artists sitting in the floats.


The most exciting bits were the start of the procession where the divine boy was carried up the first float…and the turning of the floats manually by 90 degrees at each turn of the street.

The men hard at work.


Hoko floats
Weight: about 12,000 kg
Height: about 25 m from ground to tip / 8 m from ground to roof
Wheel diameter: about 1.9 m
Attendants: about 30–40 pulling during procession, usually two men piloting with wedges


We know that Japanese ladies try to steer clear of the sun, this photo really shows that the goody bags given also cater to this need.

The floats were also push into the narrow streets to be parked at certain locations for tourists to check them out.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. VivianaAyre
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 05:35:12

    I have to ask… How did the green tea cola taste?

  2. Xuan-er
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 15:04:01

    @VivianaAyre: hehe, it tasted like cola! I don’t taste too much green tea in it.

  3. VivianaAyre
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 20:40:36

    Shame! I would have loved a green tea fizzy drink xDDDD

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